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The Environment: What Are the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems Promising?

Worried about the imminent destruction of our planet? Here's what the top three parties are pledging.
10 December 2019, 9:10am
climate protest
Photo: Chris Bethell

Humans have been doing the best they can to damage the planet for the best part of human history. Other humans getting outraged about that is more of a recent trend – and one that reached boiling point in 2019, when we stopped talking about climate change and woke up to the reality of the climate crisis.

Activism took a radical turn. Extinction Rebellion escalated its acts of nonviolent civil disobedience – so much so that police tried, and failed, to ban the movement from demonstrating in London – and the school strikes started by Greta Thunberg motivated more than a million young people to gather in a mass global protest on multiple occasions since March.

International media organisations took notice and coverage of the climate emergency intensified. At VICE we launched the "Save Yourselves" series, while national newspapers issued new guidance to their reporters to ensure the language used reflects the true magnitude of the situation.

People are dying, species are being annihilated and nature's ecosystems are at risk of collapse. It's abundantly clear the climate crisis is now the most pressing issue of our time. But are the UK's main political parties listening? Let's take a look at the promises they're making to address the climate emergency.

THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY

After Boris Johnson was replaced by a melting ice sculpture when he refused to take part in Channel 4's climate debate, you might anticipate few environment-related promises from the Tory manifesto. While the climate crisis doesn't get the same degree of attention as it does in the other parties' documents – and ignoring the talk of a £28.8 billion road-building programme – there are some welcome pledges.

The Tories reaffirm – but don't promise to accelerate – their commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the legacy Theresa May wishes she could be remembered for. The party's fracking ban also looks set to stay, and they will review the current 2040 target of stopping sales of petrol and diesel cars, which the SNP wants to be brought forward to 2032.

The party says it will establish legal targets for air quality, and plough £6.3 billion into making homes more energy-efficient, in what appears to be a U-turn on the 2015 scrapping of its "green deal" for home insulation and zero-carbon new homes. There's an extra £2.9 billion for school and hospital buildings, too.

There’s a vow to fund renewable energy, but only certain sources, including offshore wind – production of which is expected to reach 40GW by 2030 – and nuclear. Then there's the promise of an £800 million investment in carbon capture and storage over the next five years or so. Onshore wind and solar power generation, however, are ignored completely, so it appears the cuts to subsidies for these two important sources will remain. Reliance on fossil fuels is also fine, apparently, as the Tories expect the North Sea oil and gas industry to have "a long future ahead".

Don't worry too much, though, because the Tories are going to save the oceans with a £500 million "Blue Planet Fund" – its plan to protect 30 percent of the world's oceans within the next decade. Meanwhile, a new levy aims to increase the volume of recyclable plastics in packaging, and there's also the promise of a ban on exporting plastic waste to non-OECD nations.=

LABOUR

The prominence given to the climate crisis in the Labour manifesto is encouraging, but perhaps not surprising, since it was Jeremy Corbyn who tabled the motion that led to the UK's parliament becoming the world's first to declare an environment and climate emergency in May.

Among the promises is a £250 billion "Green Transformation Fund" ring-fenced for renewable and low-carbon energy and transport, biodiversity and environmental restoration. The party pledges to start a "Green Industrial Revolution", with a million climate jobs, and a focus on wind, solar, tidal and nuclear energy, rail and electric car investment and energy-efficient homes. Labour would also introduce a windfall tax on oil companies, raising more than £11 billion.

The party says it aims to cut a "substantial majority" of our emissions by 2030, but stops short of committing to a totally net-zero carbon economy within that timeframe – but does hope this will happen within the 2030s. It wants to introduce a "Clean Air Act" too and, after the manifesto was released, committed to planting 2 billion new trees by 2040 (the equivalent of 100 million a year) – more than any other party.

Plus, Labour's proposed action extends beyond the boundaries of the UK. If Brits vote to remain in the EU in a fresh referendum, the party would push for more action on the climate emergency in Brussels, and would promote environmental policies on a global scale, including with the UN, G7 and World Bank, as well as stopping aid spending on overseas fossil fuel production.

THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

The Lib Dems offer a promising set of pledges to tackle the climate crisis. There's a ten-year greenhouse gas emissions emergency programme and, although not as impressive as Labour or the Greens (2030), they aim to bring the net-zero target forward to 2045.

Jo Swinson's party says it will remove the Tories' restrictions on solar and wind, and invest in renewable power so that 80 percent of the UK's electricity comes from renewables within a decade. It also wants to insulate every home in the country within that timeframe. Reducing the need for cars is big on the agenda: the party will provide £4.5 billion for restoring and adding bus routes and stop the sale of non-electric new cars by 2030, matching the Greens' promise on this issue.

When it comes to recycling, the party is setting a target of 70 percent, and it will ban single-use plastics with the aim of eliminating them altogether within three years. Although not as ambitious as the tree planting promises from Labour and the Greens (which has promised 700 million in a decade), the Lib Dems say they will plant 60 million a year.

It's clear that Labour and the Lib Dems seem intent on taking real action to try to clean up the environment, while the Tories are merely offering a gesture of support. Make your vote count in the future of the planet.

Confused about which party to vote for in the upcoming general election? Check out VICE's handy primer to all the manifesto policies here.

@emilysgoddard